General story Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Why Communism sucked

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill speaks at the Romanian patriarchal cathedral in Bucharest, Romania, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. Russian Orthodox patriarch of Moscow Kirill arrives in Romania as the first visit by the head of the powerful Russian church since communism ended. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)

I grew up in a home that was filled with books.

My favorite book was one that belonged to my mother — about the Russian revolution, the one hundredth anniversary of which we mark this week.

When I was in my teens, my mother told me she had once been afraid of that book. As a student at Queens College in the early 1940s, she had flirted with Communism. Even years later, she lived in fear that authorities would come into our home, and see that book, and destroy my mother’s life and career.

In those days, the admiration for Communism was very “Jewish.” It was not only my mother; it was also my grandfather, and other relatives as well. And maybe yours, as well.

That said: in the contest for “most lethal ideology in history,” Communist wins.

The international death toll from Communism is somewhere between 85 million, and 100 million.

Let us begin with Stalin. Stalin’s victims totaled more than 30 million people. In the 1930s, Stalin provoked an infamous famine in Ukraine; between seven and ten million peasants died.

Let us remember as well: while it is true that the Soviet Union originally supported the state of Israel, that support vanished within a few years.

In fact, Stalin waged war against the Jews, and against Judaism – as he had waged war against all religions.

In 1983, I made a trip to what is now the former Soviet Union.

The sole purpose of my trip was to spend time with Jewish refuseniks — Jews who had applied for permission to leave the Soviet Union and to emigrate to Israel – and who had been refused that permission.

I and another colleague spent our time teaching Hebrew, and teaching Torah, and teaching Jewish history – all of which would win you a one way ticket to the gulag.

There were two “off itinerary” things that I did.

First, in Leningrad (St. Petersburg), I visited the Museum of Religion and Atheism, which was housed in a former cathedral. The sole purpose of this museum was to show how ridiculous and evil religion was.

The second: a visit to Dom Knigi, the house of books, Moscow’s equivalent of Barnes and Noble. There, I saw an entire display of posters — that depicted Israeli soldiers, with stars of David on their helmets, walking over Palestinian corpses.

That was how deep, and how normal, Jew-hatred was in the former Soviet Union.

Let us move to Red China.

During the first twenty years of Chinese Communism, between 6 million and 10 million people were killed. Tens of millions of so-called “counterrevolutionaries” languished in prisons or camps. Perhaps 20 million perished there.

And, let’s add: 10 to 20 percent of the inhabitants of Tibet.

Let us move to Cambodia, under the regime of Pol Pot.

Pol Pot turned Cambodia into one large concentration camp. Perhaps you remember the movie, The Killing Fields, the story of the Cambodian writer, Dith Pran.

Husbands were separated from wives; parents were torn away from children. Village leaders told people whom to marry and how to live. Those who disobeyed were killed. Children informed on their parents.

Let us leave Asia, and come to this hemisphere.

I am referring to Cuba.

We do not know how many people died in Cuba because of Fidel Castro — anywhere from 35,000 to 141,000.

The Castro regime was deeply anti-Zionist and anti-Israel. Cuba trained Palestinian fighters.

And yet, Castro was not anti-Semitic. Neither was Cuban Communism anti-religious.

If you go to the Patronato, the main synagogue/Jewish community center in Havana, you can look at the bulletin board — there you will see a photograph of a Hanukkah party. In that photograph, the children are dancing.

And who is dancing with them? Castro.

But, let me get back to my mother.

Why was Communism so attractive to so many Jews?

It seems clear to me.

Both Judaism and communism have the same mental map.

Judaism says: we were slaves in Egypt; we got out; the Jewish task is to make sure that all people are free from their own Egypts – and when we get to that time and place, the messianic age will come, and history will be complete.

Communism says: the workers were slaves to the capitalist system; the workers can create a revolution that will free them from those chains; and when that revolution spreads throughout the entire world, we will abolish the class system; we will wipe out hunger and poverty, and history will be complete.

It has not worked.

These are the words of the Jewish thinker, Will Herberg.

The Marxist religion was in part illusion, and in part, idolatry. In part, it was a delusional utopianism that promised heaven on earth. In part it was a sentimental optimism about the goodness of human nature. In part, it was an amoral cult of power at any price. There could be no question in my mind. As a religion, Marxism had proven itself to be bankrupt.

If I had a dollar for every time that someone said to me: “Rabbi, wouldn’t you say that religion has been responsible for an untold number of deaths in this world?” – I would be a wealthy man.

And yet, imagine two piles of bodies.

The first is a pile of bodies – of all those who died in the name of religion.

The Crusades?  Probably about two million victims.

The Spanish Inquisition?  Perhaps three thousand victims.

I am neither making excuses — nor am I making light of this trail of blood.

But now, the second pile of bodies – the victims not of religion, but of regimes that committed themselves to the eradication of religion.

I ask you to compare the piles of bodies.

In the American calendar, there is Memorial Day. In the Jewish calendar, there is Yom ha Shoah.

What we do not yet have, and what we need, is a new kind of memorial day – for the victims of Communism.

In fact, as we commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the Russian Revolution, let us admit to ourselves – that perhaps the finest and most meaningful way that we can remember this moment in history – is to remember its victims.













About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.


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  • If you are going to count piles of bodies…you have to normalize the counts to the total population at the time.

    BTW, this really makes Yahweh’s flood during Noah’s time the worst !!

  • Communism is a lie that people put their hopes into when it is God that has the answers.

    The reason for wanting communism either back in the day all the way up to today is that people see dire want in this world, in their countries, in their town and even in their home. They dream of a place where everyone has what they need through sharing and caring for each other. They desire to end unneeded suffering, poverty, lack of stability if we all work together and for each other. The X factor is that it never will happen because mankind is flawed, all of us. The desire for power, prestige, to be better than others, to get our own way without regard for others. Then the violence comes when there is questions, dissent, and then those who have power are afraid to lose it and now this so called “Utopia” becomes a regime who will silence, kill, beat, starve, enslave, anyone who is even remotely a threat.

    I can understand people’s desire to want a better world for everyone where people never go hungry, people actually care for one another, the motivation, but people do not realize that God is the only one who is able to bring about everything that we desire. That it will be God who will provide the new Heaven and the new Earth, to be reborn into exactly what He has desired for us since the beginning. There will be a day when this happens, and I hope it is soon, very soon, and until then the only truth we need to know, the certainty we can all count on is that ANYTHING designed by Man, developed and implemented by Man will ALWAYS fail and miserably at that.

  • I have made a similar argument to the one made here by Rabbi Salkin on a number of occasions on this site, only to be pooh-poohed by the enemies of theism. It is heartening to have one’s insight reinforced by a well recognized and respected authority. Thank you Rabbi Salkin for your well constructed argument.

  • You have to also consider the persecution and the discrimination of the Jews in Russia and Eastern Europe before Communism. The Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Chruches still haven’t had the equivalent of Vatican II.

  • all hell and death, is from the worship of other things (idolatry). i do not believe there is a single person, worshiping ELOHEEM here in THEIR Giving This Story of The Physical Creation again.

  • I think you have implied an undercount of religious deaths by not even trying. If we let a Rabbi tally up Communist deaths, let’s look at the atheist tally of religion’s deaths (and I am not an atheist–just trying to be fair here). 195,000,000 according to this count:

    I think it’s a huge mistake to point fingers at others to whitewash one’s own record, and I think it’s clear that Communism has sucked, just like religion, if you want to be fair about it.

  • Morally superior to those who claim they get their morals from religion anyway.

    So if you did not believe in God, would you run amok and start stealing murdering and harming people left and right?

  • Communism was a form of religion. It merely adapted its customs and rhetoric from worship of God(s) to worship of the state and its leaders. It had its own theology, saints, irrational veneration, clergy, and modes of worship. Calling it atheism is to take the claims of dictators at face value. Something even their subjects didn’t do.

    It is telling that North Korea is one of the most religiously devout countries in the world now. Cult of personality has become an actual cult

  • So waitiaminute. Is the vast Jewish conspiracy communism or unchecked capitalism? You guys can never get your stories straight here.

  • ” Then the violence comes when there is questions, dissent, and then
    those who have power are afraid to lose it and now this so called
    “Utopia” becomes a regime who will silence, kill, beat, starve, enslave,
    anyone who is even remotely a threat.”

    You realize that applies to all dictatorships, even theocracy?

  • An argument for morality from religion opens up a lot of issues the proponents do not want to think about. 🙂

  • Seems to me that the real enemy here is it Marxist or Religious . When you combine dogma (no questioning or dissent allowed) with force, you often end up with genocide.

    All religions and other dogmas stand or fall on the evidence that supports their claims. If Stalin killed 12 billion people, that does not demonstrate any god claims are true.

    If the Church killed 12.00000001 billion people, that does not demonstrate their god claims are false.

    The actions of the believers of a dogma says nothing about whether or not their claims are true.

    Would it not be funny, if it turned out the only people who are right are the Heaven’s Gate Cult and they are looking back at us from their alien ship and smiling?

  • I would change one part.,..some communism (esp. Marxism) is a dogma. To be a religion would require affirming a supernatural entity.

    North Korea comes closest as they do seem to deify the Kim dynasty….but then again, Kim Jong Il DID invent basketball, the hamburger and scored 50 hole in ones…soooooo.

    As an atheist, I would never disagree that Stalin etc committed some awful atrocities….but even if he never had…neither case would demonstrate if any gods are real or not.

  • “ANYTHING designed by Man, developed and implemented by Man will ALWAYS fail and miserably at that.”

    It is highly probable that Man created religion.

  • Also the idea that if they didn’t have God looking over their shoulder, they would become murdering thieving rampagers. That the only thing keeping them in check is the fear of eternal damnation.

    The argument is made but few really think about what it really says about the proponent.

  • “To be a religion would require affirming a supernatural entity.”

    I think the use of “a” supernatural entity is a little bit of a western bias skew on the definition of religion towards a singular defined god. Polytheism although uncommon in the west is the norm elsewhere. Hinduism, Taoism and Shintoism have many supernatural entities. In the case of Shintoism they imbue natural things with supernatural properties or venerate as if supernatural.

    I think it is safe to consider religion more of a way of thinking and acting. Something which relies on irrational appeals and collective belief. But that is just me. 🙂

  • Sure..I have no issue making it plural…good point.

    Something which relies on irrational appeals and collective belief. – I would call that dogma. But we’re in the same ballpark.

  • Why not? I’m just a smarter gorilla. I need to propagate my species. If I’m the strongest, smartest ape in the jungle, it is my obligation to pass on my superior DNA. No one is going to hold me responsible for my actions after I die. I’ll just be worm food. I am going to get all sex, power and thrills that I can get before I die.

    Do you not recognize the ramifications of Darwinian evolution???
    Spuddie, what do you base your morality upon? Are there ANY moral absolutes in your world?

  • You have made my point. You come off like a sicko on a divine leash in defense of religious morality.

    So according to your assessment, you are a terrible person, a sociopath who has no moral fiber. One only behaves because of self interest. Worse still you lack the understanding and empathy most people have to realize everyone does not share your affliction.

    Religion has no moral absolutes. Any act is considered OK if you can rationalize it as God’s word. Too many atrocities have been committed in the name of religion to claim it has any say on morality.

    Morality is not acting out of fear or reward as your afterlife concerns would do. It weighing your actions against how they impact others. Sometimes at great disadvantage or punishment for doing so. Even when right.

    In dont believe in God and I have zero desire to murder, rape and steal. Because I am a sane person who values human life and sense enough to not want the same to happen to me. I have empathy enough to not want to inflict such things on others. Too bad you lack such basic human characteristics.

    BTW evolution has nothing to say on the subject of moral thinking other than altruism may be innate. Your take on “social Darwinism” is entirely non scientific political sociopathy. Like Randist Libertarianism.

    Your knowledge of the subject of evolution and morality is lacking.

  • You just did. You claimed without God looking over your shoulder you would run amok. As if you had the kind of lack of empathy and affect one associates with sociopaths.

  • Sure…I’m sorry I did not take the time to do so before. A cursory review of the Bible reveals….

    1. Hebrews may obtain slaves from other countries.

    Leviticus 25:44-46
    44 “‘Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. 45 You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. 46 You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life.

    2. Slave owners can beat their long as they do not kill them.
    Exodus 21:20-21
    “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

  • sorry after seeing the kind of damage feminist can do, the thrill of procreation does not seem worth it. There are other ways to release those same endorphins.